Crap of the Future
By Annalee Newitz
BECAUSE I write about technology and science for a living, a peculiar burden falls on my shoulders every holiday season. I'm expected to make pronouncements about what stupid gadgets people should buy for the holidays. I've already been asked repeatedly if I'd rather buy a Wii or a Playstation 3. I'll admit I found it vaguely glamorous that people were shooting and rioting in line while waiting to buy the Playstation—it gave me that retro concert-trampling-frenzy feeling. But it didn't make me want to own one. However, I reserve the right to do another thing that tech/sci writers are supposed to do: predict the future. So instead of bitching about the stupid holiday gadgets of today, allow me to predict what kinds of lame-ass holiday crap I'll be bitching about in the future.
(1) Peer-to-Peer Brain-Distribution Client. Everybody is uploading and downloading their brains via the Internet. It's certainly the best way to travel—just upload your brain in San Francisco and download it into another body in France. The problem is bandwidth. With everybody uploading and downloading their brains around the holidays, the network gets awfully slow.
That's why Yahoo! BitTorrent has introduced the P2P brain-distribution client, which allows you to store several copies of your consciousness on multiple computers across the network. Downloading goes a lot faster because you grab segments of your consciousness from different computers at the same time, assembling it piecemeal at your destination. The problem is that sometimes the pieces arrive out of order, so you spend half an hour thinking the Star Wars series has gotten better over time. Also, people often mislabel copies of your consciousness. So you think you're downloading your mind, but actually you've gotten Cher's childhood or somebody's false memory of being abducted by aliens.
(2) DNA DRM. The latest solution to the problem of media copying is a digital-rights management (DRM) scheme that relies on identifying the DNA of the consumer. When you purchase a piece of media, your licensed copy is encoded with 13 unique sequences of nucleotides from your genome. Each time you hit the "power" button on your new DNA DRM Zune media player, a hair-thin needle painlessly pierces your flesh and feeds a drop of blood into an embedded genome sequencer.
If you are the registered owner of the media, you are permitted to play it. If you aren't, the media is deleted from your device, and a record of your transgression is reported to the central media certification authority. You will be forced to pay an extra "unlicensed play penalty tax" to license it next time. The only thing good about this system is that bio-hackers can take the DNA DRM Zune apart, remove the embedded sequencer and use it to figure out if they have cancer.
(3) Animal Mashup Maker. A home biology kit for kids, the mashup maker lets you create new animals by combining the best of all your favorite pets' genomes. What could go wrong? The dats and cogs are great, but when you start getting into fish-frogs or bird-fish or snails combined with anything, cleaning the litter box really gets kinky. Also the product tie-ins suck. I'm going to spit if I see another one of those cutesy, knitted lizard-pig holsters.
(4) Retinas-B-Gone. While I sympathize with the political project that inspired the invention of this device, I'm not sure the means justify the ends. Retinas-B-Gone temporarily burns out people's retinas to stop those annoying in-eye ads. But this extreme ad-busting technique feels too much like poking out your eyes to spite your own ubiquitous mediascape.
Plus, people could get hurt. What if unscrupulous users start burning out everybody's retinas in traffic? And what if there are people who want to see the price of toothpaste flashed into their eyes as they pass the Wal-Mart-Google store? I don't like seeing those tiny ads marching up the side of my vision either, but sometimes it's worth it to see a free movie. At least the damn things are relevant, though admittedly it's weird to see plugs for cheap funerals when you're watching the death scene in Romeo and Juliet.
Instead of tearing your retinas out and feeding your blood to the Zune this holiday, why not learn how to build a potato launcher or a Tesla coil instead? Or go write some free porn for asstr.org, fer chrissake. This is the season for giving!
Annalee Newitz ([email protected]) is a surly media nerd who will be celebrating the holidays by eating your brain.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.